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Unit 5: Linking Processes Driven By Internal and External Energy Sources

Susan DeBari, Western Washington University (in consultation with Kyle Gray and Julie Monet)

Author Profile

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

This unit is focused on group thinking: interpreting a rock cycle diagram and the role of the hydrologic cycle, identifying energy transfers, and describing hypothetical rock material transfer pathways.

Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models: Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena. MS-P2.5:

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Construct an explanation using models or representations. MS-P6.2:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Energy and Matter: The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system. MS-C5.4:

Energy and Matter: Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion). MS-C5.3:

Systems and System Models: When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models. HS-C4.2:

Energy and Matter: The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved. HS-C5.1:

Energy and Matter: Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system. HS-C5.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion, which change the land’s surface features and create underground formations. MS-ESS2.C5:

Structure and Properties of Matter: In a liquid, the molecules are constantly in contact with others; in a gas, they are widely spaced except when they happen to collide. In a solid, atoms are closely spaced and may vibrate in position but do not change relative locations. MS-PS1.A4:

Natural Resources: Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes. MS-ESS3.A1:

Earth’s Materials and Systems: All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. This energy is derived from the sun and Earth’s hot interior. The energy that flows and matter that cycles produce chemical and physical changes in Earth’s materials and living organisms. MS-ESS2.A1:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

    • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
    • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
    • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
    • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

    Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
    • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

    For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.



This page first made public: Jan 22, 2015

Summary

Students use what they have learned in the previous units to link the above-ground part of the rock cycle (driven by the hydrologic cycle, energy from the Sun, and gravity) to the below-ground part of the rock cycle driven by Earth's internal heat energy. This unit is focused on group thinking: interpreting a rock cycle diagram and the role of the hydrologic cycle, identifying energy transfers (including sources and sinks), and describing hypothetical rock material transfer pathways. Students also make connections between erosion and plate tectonics through analysis of a reading, "How Erosion Builds Mountains."

Learning Goals

Unit 5 Learning Goals

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Model the collaborative process of investigative Earth science.
  • Describe how Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and mass cycling within and between Earth's systems.

Unit 5 Learning Objectives

To achieve that learning goal, students will meet the following objectives:

  • Objective 5-1. Students will work collaboratively in groups to collect and interpret data, and to communicate results (including presentation of ideas via whiteboard to the larger group).
  • Objective 5-2. Students will describe and illustrate energy transfer processes within and between Earth systems.
  • Objective 5-3. Students will explain a viable Earth material transfer scenario using a rock cycle diagram that shows linkages between above-surface processes (erosion and sedimentation) and below-surface processes (lithification, metamorphism, melting).
  • Objective 5-4. Students will describe/illustrate the energy sources required to create sediment from a metamorphic rock.
  • Objective 5-5. Students will describe/illustrate the energy sources required to create a metamorphic rock from a sedimentary rock.
  • Objective 5-6. Students will explain how mountainous areas with high rainfall might experience greater uplift than areas with lower rainfall (this requires previous experience with isostasy).

Context for Use

This unit is the fifth and final part of a module on surficial processes for an introductory geoscience content course that is aimed primarily at pre-service teachers. This type of course is common at state and regional schools with large teacher preparation programs. Students in these courses generally are not very strong in science and are often science-phobic. This activity is designed to take two hours.

The ideal class size is 24 students or fewer, as students work in small collaborative groups (ideally 3 students) with a faculty member acting as a facilitator. This activity would be difficult to adapt to a large lecture class.

Students will need a workspace for this group work, and groups will occasionally interact via discussion with the rest of the class.

Students will need to have prior understanding of density, as well as isostasy. They need this understanding of isostasy to understand the response of mountains to the removal of material (i.e., thinning of the crust). Students also should have prior experience with the formation of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock. This activity should ideally follow a unit on rocks and a unit on plate tectonics.

This unit offers a version of the activity that utilizes an energy diagram, which can be used to describe the way that energy is transformed and transferred during processes. Read more about the energy diagram and the benefits of its use.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this activity, students take what they have learned from previous activities on surficial processes (hydrologic cycle, stream tables, and real-world stream profiles) and link them to internally driven processes (plate tectonics, rock cycle). Students will work in groups of three to answer general questions on the student activity sheet. These questions guide them to a more in-depth understanding of pathways in the rock cycle, associated energy transfers, and the interaction between the hydrologic cycle and plate tectonics/rock cycle. Students collaborate as they answer questions, and once students have been guided to a particular point of understanding, the activity sheets ask them to write their thoughts on a whiteboard and share with the rest of the class.

In the "Initial Ideas" segment, students answer content questions that relate to the major learning objectives of this activity (rock cycle pathways/interaction with hydrologic cycle/energy transfers). The goal is to surface all ideas without any attempt to correct misconceptions. These initial ideas are recorded by students, and can be used as a way to compare what they know at the end of the activity with what they thought at the beginning.

Questions to ask students to solicit their initial ideas:

  • Where does the energy come from to transport sediment in a stream? Go as far back to the ultimate energy source as possible and explain your reasoning.
  • What changes might happen to sediment if it piles up at the end of the river and gets deeply buried (many kilometers) for millions of years? What is the source of energy that is ultimately responsible for those changes? Explain your reasoning.
  • Does the hydrologic cycle play a role in the rock cycle? Explain your thinking.
  • Could the removal of many kilometers of rock from a mountaintop by erosion affect any of Earth's internal processes? Explain your reasoning.
The rest of the unit comprises three parts, but all involve students working in small groups to answer questions as indicated in the student worksheets (see below):

Part 1 links the sediments that students have worked with in Activity 1 with their ultimate fate in the rock cycle. Students are asked to think how the sediments are generated (from rock that has been exposed at the surface) to what happens to them as they are buried and turned into metamorphic rock. At the end of Part 1, students are asked to look at a schematic diagram and specifically describe how the hydrologic cycle interacts with the rock cycle.

Part 2 has students map out the energy transfers that occur during the hydrologic cycle as well as during the rock cycle. Students are led to the understanding that the hydrologic cycle is driven by energy from the Sun, whereas much of the rock cycle (the below-ground part) is driven by Earth's internal energy (thermal energy from Earth's original formation and radioactive decay). The role of gravity is implicit, but is not directly addressed.

Part 3 is only in the energy diagram version, and asks students to create their own rock cycle pathway that sediment starting at the surface (from a flood in their hometown), might traverse. Students are asked to think about energy transfers along that pathway, as well as interactions between plate tectonics and the hydrologic cycle. The role of gravity is implicit, but students are not asked to quantify energy interactions related to gravity. Read more about the energy diagram.

The homework is a presentation of how erosion and removal of sediment from a mountainous region promotes uplift. The reading also presents the debate that surrounds the question of the most important driver for developing mountain ranges: climate or plate tectonics. The associated questions (on a separate student worksheet) can be used as a summative assessment.

  • How Erosion Builds Mountains, by Mark Brandon and Nicholas Pinter, from Scientific American. The entire article can be read online with this link; if you or your institution has a subscription to Scientific American, however, you can access a PDF with all of the illustrations and make that available to your students.
  • Activity 5 Homework Reading Student Question Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 76kB Nov21 14)

Summarizing questions also provide the summative assessment material for the activity.

Materials

Students will work in small groups (ideally 3). Each group needs:

  • A whiteboard (3' x 3' is usually good; it should be large enough so that the rest of the class can see what is written on the whiteboard when the group presents).
  • Multiple colors of whiteboard markers.
  • Cloth to clean off the whiteboards.
  • A workspace for group work. These groups will interact via discussion with the rest of the class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This unit is particularly focused on facilitated discussions. The role of the teacher is to facilitate only, and to avoid directly providing answers. The activity sheets are designed so that students should reach scientifically sound conclusions on their own. If they do not, the facilitator can guide the discussion to address any remaining misconceptions. This facilitated discussion is where much of the learning takes place or is solidified.

However, this unit can be challenging because the questions focus more on thought experiments and combining and applying what they have learned through experiments and data analysis in previous units to more abstract ideas and concepts.

Students must be encouraged often to read what is in the activity sheets and not look to the teacher to tell them what to do. Students must also be encouraged to write down their answers whenever they encounter a prompt. Skipping answers may lead to misconceptions or misunderstandings. Skipping answers also denies the students the opportunity to later reflect on their thought processes as they learn the material.

Assessment

Formative assessment occurs via the following:

  1. Facilitator listening in on group discussions of specific prompts to make sure that students are on the right track/holding productive conversations.
  2. Facilitator listening in on class discussions of specific prompts.
  3. Quality of individual student answers to specific prompts in the activity sheet.

Summative assessment occurs via the following:

  1. Written answers to the summarizing questions.
  2. Homework.
  3. Written questions in an exam format.

Unit 5 assessments:

Assessable objectives are in normal font, and the writing/discussion prompts that assess those objectives are in italics:

  • Students will be able to work collaboratively in groups to collect and interpret data, and to communicate results (including presentation of ideas via whiteboard to larger group).
    • Formative and Summative Assessment: facilitator assesses quality of discussions both within and between groups. Are students collaborating effectively? Is discourse productive? Are higher order thinking skills being employed? Do students learn by interacting with their peers?
  • Students will be able to describe and illustrate energy transfer processes within and between Earth systems.
    • Formative Assessment:
      • Unit 5, Part 2, Question 1. Review the energy transfer that occurs as water evaporates from a large body of water, and provide an explanation for that transfer.
      • Unit 5, Part 2, Question 2. Now describe the energy transfer that occurs as that evaporated water condenses and falls out as precipitation. What would happen to the water in this cycle if the Sun did not continuously supply energy input?
      • Unit 5, Part 2, Question 3. Map the energy transfer that occurs during that erosion process.
    • Summative Assessment
      • Unit 5, Summarizing Questions 1 and 2, 6
        • Where does the energy come from to transport sediment in a stream? Go as far back to the ultimate energy source as possible and explain your reasoning.
        • What changes might happen to sediment if it piles up at the end of the river and gets deeply buried (many kilometers) for millions of years? What is the source of energy that is ultimately responsible for those changes? Explain your reasoning.
        • Describe a hypothetical rock material transfer pathway as follows: You live on the banks of a medium-sized river. The river floods during high rains. When the water finally recedes, there is a new layer of fine-grained sediment everywhere in your neighborhood. Using the rock cycle diagram and a whiteboard, your group should describe a hypothetical rock cycle pathway for that sediment that traverses at least one time through the rock cycle. Make sure you describe interaction with the hydrologic cycle and plate tectonics. Write down your resulting pathway below and make sure you include any required energy transfers.
  • Students will be able to explain a viable Earth material transfer scenario using a rock cycle diagram that shows linkages between above-surface processes (erosion and sedimentation) and below-surface processes (lithification, metamorphism, melting).
    • Formative Assessment:
      • Unit 5, Part 2, Question 8. Brainstorm below what other things happen to a rock as it traverses the rock cycle.
    • Summative Assessment:
      • Unit 5, Summarizing Questions. . . . Describe a hypothetical rock material transfer pathway . . .
  • Students will be able to describe/illustrate the energy sources required to create sediment from a metamorphic rock.
    • Summative Assessment: Energy diagram from Part 2, Question 5 in worksheet: Map this energy transfer as a sedimentary rock receives thermal energy to be turned into a metamorphic rock. Provide an explanation.
  • Students will be able to describe/illustrate the energy sources required to create a metamorphic rock from a sedimentary rock.
    • Summative Assessment: Energy diagram from Part 2, Question 3 in worksheet: Map the energy transfer that occurs during that erosion process. The receiver object and its type of energy have been done for you. Provide an explanation of that energy transfer.
  • Students will be able to explain how mountainous areas with high rainfall might experience greater uplift than areas with lower rainfall (this requires previous experience with isostasy.
    • Summative Assessment
      • Unit 5, Summarizing Question 5. The northern Andes mountain range and the mountains of southeastern Alaska are both large mountain ranges that are actively uplifting. Based on your homework reading, and given the difference in climate between the two (the northern Andes are desert, southeastern Alaska is very rainy), which mountain range would you expect to be rising faster? Explain your reasoning.
      • Unit 5, Homework: Homework prompt, How do feedbacks between tectonics, erosion, and climate processes interplay to influence mountain building?

References and Resources

  • The figure in question 8 of the student activity sheet comes from the Reynolds textbook, Exploring Geology (Reynolds, et al. 2010. McGraw Hill, ISBN: 007337668x).
  • The second figure in question 9 comes from the Geological Society of London's online unit about the rock cycle. Permission to reuse has been granted by the Geological Society of London.
  • The reading for the homework is How Erosion Builds Mountains, by Mark Brandon and Nicholas Pinter, from Scientific American.
  • Student materials for this activity


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »